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The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

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The Left-Handed Booksellers of London

Bewertungen:
4/5 (4 Bewertungen)
Länge:
394 Seiten
6 Stunden
Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
22. Sept. 2020
ISBN:
9780062683274
Format:
Buch

Beschreibung

A girl’s quest to find her father leads her to an extended family of magical fighting booksellers who police the mythical Old World of England when it intrudes on the modern world. From the bestselling master of teen fantasy, Garth Nix.

In a slightly alternate London in 1983, Susan Arkshaw is looking for her father, a man she has never met. Crime boss Frank Thringley might be able to help her, but Susan doesn’t get time to ask Frank any questions before he is turned to dust by the prick of a silver hatpin in the hands of the outrageously attractive Merlin.

Merlin is a young left-handed bookseller (one of the fighting ones), who with the right-handed booksellers (the intellectual ones), are an extended family of magical beings who police the mythic and legendary Old World when it intrudes on the modern world, in addition to running several bookshops.

Susan’s search for her father begins with her mother’s possibly misremembered or misspelt surnames, a reading room ticket, and a silver cigarette case engraved with something that might be a coat of arms.

Merlin has a quest of his own, to find the Old World entity who used ordinary criminals to kill his mother. As he and his sister, the right-handed bookseller Vivien, tread in the path of a botched or covered-up police investigation from years past, they find this quest strangely overlaps with Susan’s. Who or what was her father? Susan, Merlin, and Vivien must find out, as the Old World erupts dangerously into the New.

Herausgeber:
Freigegeben:
22. Sept. 2020
ISBN:
9780062683274
Format:
Buch

Über den Autor

Garth Nix is a New York Times bestselling novelist and has been a full-time writer since 2001, but has also worked as a literary agent, marketing consultant, book editor, book publicist, book sales representative, bookseller, and as a part-time soldier in the Australian Army Reserve. Garth’s many books include the Old Kingdom fantasy series, beginning with Sabriel and continuing to Goldenhand; the sci-fi novels Shade’s Children and A Confusion of Princes; the Regency romance with magic Newt’s Emerald; and novels for children including The Ragwitch, the Seventh Tower series, the Keys to the Kingdom series, and Frogkisser!, which is now in development as a feature film with Fox Animation/Blue Sky Studios. Garth has written numerous short stories, some of which are collected in Across the Wall and To Hold the Bridge. He has also cowritten several children’s book series with Sean Williams, including TroubleTwisters and Have Sword, Will Travel. More than six million copies of his books have been sold around the world and his work has been translated into forty-two languages. You can find him online at www.garthnix.com.


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The Left-Handed Booksellers of London - Garth Nix

Prologue

IT WAS 5:42 A.M. ON MAY DAY, 1983, IN THE WEST OF ENGLAND, AND A sliver of the sun had edged above the ridge. But it was still cool and almost dark in the shallow valley, where the brook ran clear and straight until it made a sweeping left-hand curve before the weir a mile farther downstream.

A bridge of three planks crossed the brook near a farmhouse, carrying the footpath to the farther side, diverting walkers away. Not that this path was ever well-traveled. Walkers somehow failed to see the start of this particular path, under the ancient oak next to the crossroad at the hamlet near the weir.

A young woman came out of the farmhouse, yawning, her eyes half-shut, her mind still mostly lost in a dream that had seemed so real.

Susan Arkshaw, who had turned eighteen years old as of two minutes ago, was striking rather than immediately attractive, with her vibrant black eyebrows in stark contrast to her closely razored head, the stubble dyed white-blond. She wore a 1968 Jimi Hendrix Summer Tour T-shirt given to her mother fifteen years ago by a roadie. The T-shirt was big enough to serve as a nightdress, because she was not tall, though very wiry and muscular. People often thought she was a professional dancer or gymnast, though she was neither.

Her mother, who was tall and slight without the muscle, said Susan took after her father, which was possibly true. Susan had never met him, and this was one of the few details her mother had ever shared.

Susan walked to the brook, and knelt to dip her hand in the cool, clear water. She’d had the recurring dream again, familiar since her childhood. She frowned, trying to recall it in more detail. It always started the same way, here at the brook. She could almost see it. . . .

A disturbance in the water suggested a fish rising at first, until it became a great roiling and splashing, too big for any fish. Slowly, as if drawn up by an invisible rope, a creature rose from the heart of the swift current in the middle of the brook. Its legs and arms and body were made from weed and water, willow sticks and reeds. Its head was a basket shaped of twisted alder roots, with orbs of swirling water as limpid eyes, and its mouth was made of two good-sized crayfish, claws holding tails, crustacean bodies forming an upper and lower lip.

Bubbling and streaming clear, cold water, the creature sloshed a dozen yards across the grass and then stone paving to the house and, raising one long limb, lashed green willow ends upon window glass, once, twice, three times.

The crayfish mouth moved, and a tongue of pondweed emerged to shape words, wet and sibilant.

I watch and ward.

The river creature turned, and walking back, lost height and girth and substance, until in the last few paces it became little more than a bundle of stuff such as the brook might throw ashore in flood, the only sign of its presence a trail of mud upon the flagstone path that lined the front of the house.

Susan rubbed her temples and looked behind her. There was a trail of mud on the flagstones. From house to brook. But her mother had probably gotten up even earlier and been pottering about, shuffling in her gum boots. . . .

A raven cawed from the rooftop. Susan waved to it. There were ravens in her dream as well, but bigger ones. Much larger than any that actually existed, and they talked as well, though she couldn’t remember what they said. She always remembered the beginning of the dream best; it got confused after the brook creature.

Besides the ravens, there was also something about the hill above the farmhouse. A creature emerged from the earth there . . . a kind of lizard thing of stone, possibly even a dragon.

Susan smiled, thinking about what all this meant. Her subconscious hard at work fantasizing, fueled by too many fantasy novels and a childhood diet of Susan Cooper, Tolkien, and C. S. Lewis. The brook creature and the huge ravens and the earth lizard should all make up a nightmare, but the dream wasn’t frightening. Quite the reverse, in fact. She always felt strangely comforted after she had the dream.

She yawned hugely and went back to bed. As she crawled under her duvet and sleep claimed her again, she suddenly remembered what one of the huge ravens had said in the dream.

Gifts your father gave us, we creatures of water, air, and earth, to watch and ward.

My father, said Susan sleepily. My father . . .

Later, when her mother brought her tea and toast in bed at eight o’clock, a special treat to celebrate her birthday, Susan had forgotten her earlier awakening, had forgotten she’d had the recurring dream again. But something lingered, she knew she’d dreamed . . .

She looked at her mother sitting on the end of her bed.

I had an interesting dream last night. I think. Only I can’t remember what happened. It seemed important. . . .

It’s good to dream, said her mother, who lived much in a dream herself. She ran her fingers through her long, luxuriantly black hair, streaked here and there with the white of grief, not age. Jassmine never let anyone cut her hair; she became very agitated when Susan suggested she do more than trim the ends, which she did herself. Most of the time . . . but there are bad dreams, too. . . .

I think my dream . . . I think it was somehow about my father?

Oh yes? More tea?

Are you sure you can’t tell me who my father is, Mum?

Oh no. It was a different time. I wasn’t the same person. He . . . did you say yes to more tea?

Yes, Mum.

They drank more tea, both lost in their own thoughts.

Eventually, Susan said with some determination, I think I’ll go up to London early. Get acclimatized. There’s bound to be pub work I can get. And I . . . I’ll try to find my dad.

What was that, darling?

I’m going to go up to London. Before I take my place. Just find some work and so on.

Oh. Well. It’s natural, I suppose. But you must be careful. He told me . . . no, that was about something else. . . .

Who is ‘he’? What did he say to be careful of, or about?

Hmm? Oh, I forget. London. Yes, of course you must go. When I was eighteen I couldn’t imagine being anywhere else. But I insist on postcards. You must send me postcards. Trafalgar Square . . .

Susan waited for Jassmine to continue, but her mother’s voice trailed off and she was staring at the wall, whatever thought had been about to emerge lost somewhere along the way.

I will, Mum.

And I know you will be careful. Eighteen! Happy birthday, my darling. Now, I must get back to my painting before that cloud comes over and ruins the light. Presents later, okay? After second breakfast.

Presents later. Don’t miss the light!

No, no. You too, darling girl. Even more so for you. Be sure to stay in the light. That’s what he would have wanted.

Mum! Who’s ‘he’ . . . come back . . . oh, never mind. . . .

Chapter One

A clerk there was, sinister gloved

Dexter scorning, his sword well-loved

Wielded mirror-wise, most adept

Bookes and slaughter, in both well kept

A SLIGHT YOUNG MAN WITH LONG FAIR HAIR, WEARING A PRE-OWNED mustard-colored three-piece suit with widely flared trousers and faux alligator-hide boots with two-inch Cuban heels, stood over the much older man on the leather couch. The latter was wearing nothing but a monogrammed silk dressing gown, which had fallen open to reveal an expanse of belly very reminiscent of a puffer fish. His fleshy face was red with anger, jowls still quivering with the shock of being stuck square on his roseate nose with a silver hatpin.

You’ll pay for this, you little f— the older man swore, swiping with the cut-throat razor that he’d just pulled out from under one of the embroidered cushions on the couch.

But even as he moved his face lost rigidity, flesh collapsing like a plastic bag brushed against a candle flame. The young man—or perhaps it was a young woman who was dressed like a man—stepped back and watched as the tide of change continued, the flesh within the pale blue robe falling into a fine dust that ebbed away to reveal strangely yellowed bones poking from sleeves and collar, bone in its turn crumbling into something akin to the finest sand, ground small over millennia by the mighty ocean.

Though in this case, it had not taken an ocean, nor millennia. Merely the prick of a pin, and a few seconds. Admittedly a very special pin, though it looked like any other pin made for Georgian-era ladies. This one, however, was silver-washed steel, with Solomon’s great spell of unmaking inscribed on it in letters too small for the unaided eye to see, invisible between the hallmarks that declared it to have been made in Birmingham in 1797 by Harshton and Hoole. Very obscure silversmiths, and not ones whose work was commonly sought after, then or now. They mostly made hatpins, after all, and oddly sharp paper knives.

The young man—for he was a young man, or was tending towards being one—held the silver hatpin in his left hand, which was encased in a pale tan glove of very fine and supple cabretta leather, whereas the elegant fingers of his right hand were free of any such covering. He wore a ring on the index finger of his right hand, a thin gold band etched with some inscription that would need close examination to read.

His gloved left hand was perfectly steady as he slid the pin back into its special pocket in the right sleeve of his suit, its head snug against the half sovereign cuff links (1897, Queen Victoria; the jubilee year, not any old half sovereign) of his Turnbull & Asser shirt. His right hand shook a little as he did so, though not enough to make the hatpin snag a thread.

The slight shake wasn’t because he’d disincorporated crime boss Frank Thringley. It was because he wasn’t supposed to be there at all and he was wondering how he was going to explain—

Put . . . put your hands up!

He also wasn’t supposed to be able to be surprised by someone like the young woman who had burst into the room, an X-Acto craft knife in her trembling hands. She was neither tall nor short, and moved with a muscular grace that suggested she might be a martial artist or a dancer, though her Clash T-shirt under dark blue overalls, oxblood Doc Martens, and her buzzed-short dyed blond hair suggested more of a punk musician or the like.

The man raised his hands up level with his head. The knife-wielder was:

1. Young, perhaps his own age, which was nineteen;

2. Almost certainly not a Sipper like Frank Thringley; and

3. Not the sort of young woman crime bosses usually kept around the house.

What . . . what did you do to Uncle Frank?

He’s not your uncle.

He slid one foot forward but stopped as the young woman gestured with the knife.

Well, no, but . . . stay there! Don’t move! I’m going to call the police.

The police? Don’t you mean Charlie Norton or Ben Bent-Nose or one of Frank’s other charming associates?

I mean the police, said the young woman determinedly. She edged across to the telephone on the dresser. It was a curious phone for Frank Thringley, Merlin thought. Antique, art deco from the 1930s. Little white ivory thing with gold inlay and a straight cord.

Who are you? I mean, sure, go ahead and call the police. But we’ve probably only got about five minutes before . . . or less, actually—

He stopped talking and, using his gloved left hand, suddenly drew a very large revolver from the tie-dyed woven yak-hair shoulder bag he wore on his right side. At the same time the woman heard something behind her, something coming up the stairs, something that did not sound like normal footsteps, and she turned as a bug the size of a small horse burst into the room and the young man stepped past her and fired three times boom! boom! boom! into the creature’s thorax, sending spurts of black blood and fragments of chitin across the white Aubusson carpet and still it kept coming, its multi-segmented back legs scrabbling and its hooked forelimbs snapping, almost reaching the man’s legs until he fired again, three more shots, and the huge, ugly bug flipped over onto its back and spun about in frenzied death throes.

As the deafening echoes of the gunshots faded, the woman realized she was screaming, and stopped, since it wasn’t helping.

What . . . was that?

"Pediculus humanus capitis. A louse, replied the young man, who was reloading his revolver, hitching up his waistcoat to take rounds from a canvas bullet belt. Made bigger, obviously. We really have to go. Name’s Merlin, by the bye."

Like Merlin the magician?

"Like Merlin the wizard. And you are?"

Susan, said Susan automatically. She stared at the still-twitching giant louse on the carpet, then at the pile of reddish dust on the lounge, contained by the pale blue robe. The monogram FT was uppermost, as if pointing out who the dust used to be.

What the hell is going on?

Can’t explain here, said Merlin, who had gone to the window and was lifting the sash.

Why not? asked Susan.

Because we’ll both be dead if we stay. Come on.

He went out through the window.

Susan looked at the phone, and thought about calling the police. But after a single second more of careful but lightning-fast thought, she followed him.

Chapter Two

A left-handed bookseller I did spy

In a wood one darkling day

I durst not ask their business, why

Best not to know, I do say

THE WINDOW OPENED ABOVE THE ROOF OF THE CONSERVATORY, which ran from the back of the house to the fence. Beyond that lay the dark mass of Highgate Wood. Merlin was walking out along the steel ridgeline of the conservatory, Cuban-heeled boots notwithstanding. The flat ridge was no wider than his hand, with long sloping panes of glass on either side. But he acted as if they were of no account, though if he fell he’d smash through them and be cut to pieces.

Susan hesitated and looked back. The monstrous bug was still writhing, but there was something else happening now. A dark fog was flowing up the stairs. It looked like thick black smoke, but it moved very slowly and she couldn’t smell burning. Whatever it was, she instinctively knew it was wrong, something inimical. She shivered suddenly, bent down, and crawled out onto the ridge of the conservatory, moving swiftly on hands and knees.

There’s a weird black fog coming up the stairs, she panted as she reached the end. Merlin was standing in front of her, but as she spoke he jumped, clear across to a branch from an ancient oak that overhung the garden fence.

How can you do that in those heels? gasped Susan.

Practice, said Merlin. He held on to a higher branch with his right hand and extended his left. Jump.

Susan looked behind her. The extraordinarily dense, dark fog was already coiling out the window. It didn’t move like normal fog at all; in fact, one broad tendril was coiling out towards her specifically. Reaching for her. . . .

She jumped. Merlin leaned out to her but Susan didn’t need help, landing close to the trunk and immediately steadying herself by wrapping her arms around it.

Down, said Merlin, climbing quickly. Fast!

Susan followed him, jumping the last five feet, her Docs splattering hard into the leaf mulch and mud. It had been raining most of the day, though it had eased off at nightfall. Now, past midnight, it was simply clammy.

The wood was very dark. All the light was behind them, spilling out of the houses and streetlights onto Lanchester Road.

The black fog was streaming over the conservatory, flowing down the panes on either side of the ridge. Spreading and extending, blending into the night once it moved outside the fall of light from the houses and street.

"What is that?"

More to explain later, said Merlin. Follow me. We have to get to the old straight track.

He led off, almost jogging, zigzagging between trees. Susan followed, hands up to ward off snapping-back branches and saplings. She couldn’t see anything clearly. Merlin was a dark shape ahead; she had to trust he could see where he was going and try to stay right behind.

A few minutes later she almost ran into Merlin’s back as he came out onto a path. He hesitated for a moment, looking left and right and then up at the cloudy sky, and the very few visible stars.

This way! Come on!

He was running now. Susan followed as best she could, fighting the feeling that they would both run into something and really hurt themselves, balanced against the feeling that something even worse would happen if they didn’t outpace the black fog that she was sure still followed, flowing faster in the darkness, tendrils reaching out to either side, looking for her. . . .

Merlin stopped.

We’re on it, he said. We can walk slowly now. Stay close, stay on the path.

I can’t even see the path! gasped Susan.

Keep right behind me, said Merlin. He was walking slowly. The sky was lighter above, here, and there was more open space about the path, the trees not crowding so close.

Susan looked behind her, eyes wide as they’d go, trying to see. The dark seemed to be of different tones, different shades.

That fog, she whispered. I think it followed us.

Yes, said Merlin. But it can’t come onto the path.

Why not?

It’s an old thing, and obeys old custom, said Merlin. Anyway, it’s not so much the fog itself we have to worry about, it’s the Shuck.

The Shuck?

The fog is what you might call a companion effect, said Merlin. It disorients and distracts, and it’s necessary for the thing that moves within the fog, once it’s thick enough. That’s the Shuck. Though it has other names, too.

He slowed, studying the ground in front. The path was veering off to the right and there was a copse of young beech trees straight ahead. The new path isn’t following the old straight track. We’ll have to turn around and go back.

Go back!

Yes. Backwards and forwards till dawn, if necessary.

But the . . . the Shuck thing . . .

It can’t touch us on the true path, either, said Merlin. Turn about. Don’t step off!

Susan turned on the spot, and started walking slowly back the way they had come, following the path as best she could.

I can’t see, she whispered after only a few steps. She could hear the loose gravel of the path under her feet, different from leaf mold and mud. But it was too easy to wander off in the darkness, lose the way.

If you don’t object, I’ll hold your shoulders and direct you, said Merlin. Walk slowly. It’ll be fine.

She felt his hands come down on her shoulders, a light touch. But even so, his left hand felt odd. She could feel a weird warmth from it, coming through glove and overall bib and her T-shirt, as if he had some sort of warming device in that hand. He pushed slightly on the right, redirecting her.

On the positive side, Merlin said after they’d slowly walked thirty or forty yards, no one else will dare come after us now they’ve loosed the Shuck.

They won’t?

It’s not very discerning, said Merlin. Hopefully, the rain earlier will have ensured no one else is in the wood tonight. Slow down. Damn!

What?

The path at this end veers away as well and trees have grown up. Why couldn’t they follow the old track? Stop. We’ll turn around again.

They turned around. For the first time, Susan realized there was something else disturbing her. Besides all the obviously disturbing things like Uncle Frank turning into dust, the giant bug, the black fog.

I can’t hear the traffic. Or the trains. Or anything except us. Why is it so quiet?

It is two a.m.

Oh, come on. I might be from the country, but I’ve been to London before.

Ah. Which part of the country?

West Country. Between Bath and Chippenham. Don’t change the subject.

I’m afraid the silence means we are now completely surrounded by the fog within which the Shuck roams. Speaking of which, it will probably try to scare us from the path, so be ready. Hold my shoulders and stay close.

They walked on, the only sounds coming from the gravel and snapping twigs beneath Cuban heels and Doc Marten air soles and Susan’s breathing, which still hadn’t slowed down.

Moon’s coming out of the cloud, said Merlin.

Is that good? asked Susan.

Not always. Good for us tonight. A new moon is kinder to the younger folk, meaning humans, for the most part. And it makes it easier to see the path as well.

It did make it easier to see the path. In fact, the mix of gravel and leaf mold and mud was now luminous, not simply reflecting the soft, pale light of the moon but seemingly kindled by it.

The moonlight also made the black fog more palpable. It was all around them, walling them in, making the path like a narrow, dangerous alley. Every now and then tendrils and wisps edged in, recoiling as they reached the path, rolling back into the mass.

A few paces farther along, Susan’s nose suddenly wrinkled and she felt bile rise in her throat.

I can smell something really horrible, she whispered. Like rotting meat and . . . foul water. . . .

It’s the Shuck, said Merlin. He didn’t lower his light, tuneful voice. It’s probably been summoned from the stretch of the Fleet that took away the offal and blood from the Smithfield Market, and so hates mortals all the more for defiling its water. Don’t look. It’s pacing us, a little behind and to the right.

The smell grew stronger, and the hairs on the back of Susan’s neck rose and she felt a shiver between her shoulder blades, as if the point of an impossibly sharp tooth rested there, waiting to be driven into her flesh.

Let’s play twenty questions, said Merlin easily. Take your mind off . . . er . . . things.

That yes-no thing always drives me crazy, said Susan. It took an effort for her to speak normally. She was acutely aware that there was something behind her, something huge and horrible whose breath reeked of carrion. "How about we actually answer each other’s questions."

Sure, said Merlin. We’re coming up to where we need to turn around again. Keep your eyes down. If you do see the Shuck, don’t look directly at it.

Okay, replied Susan. Uh, when I say actually answer questions, this isn’t one of those situations where if I know too much you have to kill me, is it?

You already know too much, said Merlin. "But you’re not at risk from me. Or mine. Though I’m afraid your life might never be the same."

Oh, said Susan.

Some of it might be an improvement, said Merlin carefully. Depending on your actual relationship with your ‘uncle’ Frank. Eyes down, turn around.

Susan tried to keep her eyes down, but even so she did catch a very fleeting glimpse of something terrible within the fog, a massive, misshapen, twisted thing with eyes like open wounds and a vast, constantly dripping maw—

Eyes down! Keep walking!

I am, I am, Susan said, shuddering.

It’s dropped back. And it really can’t get us on the path, said Merlin. Let’s imagine we’ve met . . . er . . . somewhere . . . and we’re having a chat. So, what were you doing in that house?

Frank was one of Mum’s friends from years ago, said Susan. She opened her eyes again, a little, looking through slitted eyelids. I thought he was a boyfriend . . . he always sent me presents at Christmas, signed ‘Uncle Frank.’ I never actually met him until I came up to London today. I mean yesterday. I knew straight away that I’d made a mistake. Coming to see him, that is. I was about to sneak out when I heard you come in . . . what did you do to him, anyway? And why?

To cut to the heart of the matter, I touched him with a silver object inscribed with Solomon’s spell of unmaking Harmless to mortals . . . humans . . . but Frank was what we call a Sipper. A blood drinker—

A vampire!

No, they don’t exist, though almost certainly Sippers are the basis for the legend. They do bite, but nearly always at wrist or ankle, not the neck—because they don’t want to kill—and they’re very small bites. They let the blood flow and sip it. No big hollow teeth nonsense; they lap it up like a cat. Triangular-pointed tongues. One of the signs that gives them away.

And you hunt and kill them?

Merlin sighed.

No. We usually leave them alone, provided they behave themselves. In fact, there’s a Sipper who works for us in accounts, and . . . uh . . . our infirmary. Sipper saliva has powerful healing properties.

So why stick Frank with your hatpin?

You recognized it as a hatpin?

I’m an art student. Jewelry is one of my things, though I’m mainly a printmaker. Or I will be an art student, when term starts. That’s why I’m looking for my dad now; I have about three months before I have to buckle down, as Mrs. Lawrence says.

Who’s Mrs. Lawrence?

My sixth-form school art teacher. She helped me get my place, and says I’m not to waste it.

Which art school? Get ready to stop and turn around.

The Slade.

You must be good, then.

"My etchings, I believe, are worth coming up to see, as they say. And I can draw. Though it’s not really the rage at the moment. Being able to draw, that is."

It must be satisfying to make things. Turn.

They turned. Susan caught a strong waft of the carrion stench and almost gagged, but she also realized that talking was distracting her. Quickly, she gabbled out the first question that came into her head.

If we’re safe on the path, can’t we sit down?

No, replied Merlin. It only has the virtue of the old straight track if we’re moving on it. If we stop, it’s simply a patch of ground, and both the fog and the Shuck will have us.

So, said Susan. Are you actually a wizard?

Well, I’m mainly a bookseller.

What?!

"Really. A bookseller. I handle incoming deliveries for the most part, unpacking, shelving. Not a lot of the actual selling. The right-handed generally do that."

The right-handed?

"It’s a family business, of sorts. Perhaps clan would be a better word. We’re either right-handed or left-handed. Though it can change. ‘One for the books, one for the hooks,’ as we like to say."

He held up his gloved left hand, stark in the moonlight.

As you can see, I am of the left-handed moiety.

But what does that mean? What’s the hook business?

It’s obscure, to be honest. I mean, we’ve never really used hooks. Swords, daggers, hatpins . . . but the left-handed St. Jacques—

Sanjucks?

San Jark. The family name. French. Though we’re not French and it’s not really our name, it’s something pinned on us by the first Elizabeth; she was confused, and it kind of stuck. Anyway, we left-handed types do most of the active stuff, running about, fighting, and so on. The hook part might be a bitter reflection that, back in the seventeenth century, a number of us ended up strung up on hooks by various religious parties.

"But what . . . I mean, this Sipper thing . . . and the Shuck and the fog . . . what is going on?"

The last few words burst out of Susan almost like a scream. She’d managed to hold in the bizarre mixture of panic and puzzlement but it was threatening to break free.

Yeah, I realize it’s a shock. But your best chance of survival is to stay calm and stay with me. Ah, how can I put this? The world you know, the ‘normal’ human world, is the top layer of a palimpsest—that’s a many-times overwritten parchment—

I know what a palimpest . . . palimset . . . I know what one is even if I can’t say it.

"Well, there is another world beneath the everyday human one, and under certain conditions or at particular times, the Old World comes to the top, or elements of it become the primary world, as it were. And there are . . . environments and creatures or individuals who exist on multiple levels at the

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